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Chat: Timo Seppa (Hockey)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday September 16, 2011 1:00 PM ET chat session with Timo Seppa (Hockey).

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Join hockey maven and man-about-town Timo Seppa as he discusses Hockey Prospectus 2011-12, VUKOTA projections, and the upcoming season.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Hello! Ready for the upcoming 2011-12 campaign? Ready for Hockey Prospectus 2011-12? Let's see what's on your minds as we get ready to drop the puck on a new season.

Bobby (Las Vegas): Am I crazy to think the Sabres are a darkhorse Stanley Cup contender this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Ding, ding, ding! Our VUKOTA projection's got Buffalo as...wait for it...our second-ranked team, if you can believe it. I don't think people realize how good this blue line is top to bottom, with Ehrhoff, Myers, Leopold, Regehr, and even Weber, Gragnani, and Sekera. Note the lack of mention of Shaone Morrisonn.

Marissa (LA): When are the Kings going to stop playing hardball with their best player, Drew Doughty?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I don't think it's hardball, or if it is, it's nothing out of the ordinary. Same deal with Bobby Ryan a year ago and there are plenty of other examples. Teams have the hammer on RFAs; you never see them traded, never see them not sign. Trust me, it'll be all smiles and handshakes soon enough, with lots of talk about getting back to work towards winning a Cup.

Darryn (Edmonton): Do you have a sleeper for the top 10 in scoring?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): VUKOTA's got young veterans Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner in the top 10 in points, maybe a shade higher than folks might think. I was surprised to have to scan down the list into the 40's to see Logan Couture, though we've got him 16th with 31 goals. I think Couture's a monster, and should have won the Calder (with Skinner placing third, mind you). He might be San Jose's best player.

Here's a name for you, that might be a bit passe in fantasy circles: Mike Ribeiro. Could have a pretty nice statistical season moving up to first line center with Richards gone. In fact, all the Stars will see proportionately more PP time with Richards gone.

JonL (CT): Of the Rangers youth movement, who do you think is the Real Deal (or even a top-6er), and who is more of a flash in the pan? They already gave up on Matt Gilroy, and I think Del Zotto's days are numbered, but other than that they all seem to have legitimate potential, to me.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): New York's going to be a contender over the next few seasons. It's next to miraculous what their recently-maligned GM has done over the past two seasons, getting rid of several albatross contracts, bringing in a youth movement, and two top free agents in Gaborik and Richards (I cover all of this in the Rangers team chapter in Hockey Prospectus 2011-12, by the way). The team plays hard for Tortorella, as well.

So to your question: I'm still a slight Anisimov doubter, although he was quite good by both conventional stats and advanced metrics last season. Big fan of college teammates Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh - they'll be staples of the team for years. Sauer's a surprisingly good player. Not a Del Zotto fan. He was all offense in his rookie year, and then even that deserted him last year. Sorry to see Gilroy go. Don't really understand why he was a marginalized, but nice to see Yzerman giving him a chance. He's not super-physically-talentd, but he's a winner.

Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh): I will play over 40 regular season games this season. True or False?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Who knows with concussions, but probably False. My gut says it's probably 50/50 whether he's out for the year, or returns sometime in 2012 with an eye toward the playoffs. Don't think you'll see him at all in 2011. It's a shame, because as I write in the book, we're missing the absolute peak of a HOF career. It's everyone's loss.

SimplyFalco (Amherst): Have you heard anything regarding Ville Leino's transition to Center?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Jonathan Willis casts major doubts about the idea in our Buffalo chapter; Leino was by far the most sheltered forward on the Flyers...as a winger! Matt Coller (right there in Western New York) tells me that it's still the plan for Leino to play second-line center, but that Regier is still exploring trade possibilites - don't know what that might do to mix up the cast of characters. The Leino things seems risky, all around.

Darryn (Edmonton): RNH: where's he playing this year?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Haven't had time to check on the situation at all (with this little book thing taking up quite a lot of my time!) so I'll answer this just by deduction. Pretty much every recent number one overall pick has started in the NHL, haven't they? That's my answer.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Hey Timo! Thanks for the chat. Had you heard any of the same things about Alex Semin that Matt Bradley and David Steckel alleged? What is your opinion of Semin?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Matt, I don't have any more insights into Semin than what's been said, but you'd have to think he's a problem if multiple ex-teammates are speaking out about him. Great talent, obviously.

Semin's one of the guys that didn't have a dropoff in shooting percentage, like seemingly all of the other Caps skill players did, but like Ovechkin, his shots dropped (3.8 to 3.0 SOG/game).

Remember when I suggested a challenge trade of Brad Richards for Semin at last season's trading deadline? Discuss.

Chris Campoli (Ontario): Which team will I be playing for this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Campoli got a pretty bad wrap for one sequence, unfortunately in a Game 7. He did earn 6.8 GVT after all last season, so he's much better than most third-pairing guys - lousy on the PP, but a superior fifth or sixth defenseman for any team with a weak blue line. He undoubtedly deserves a chance.

R.A. Wagman (Toronto): Are my Leafs going to make the playoffs this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): We've got Toronto climbing all the way up to 17th in GVT, after they were 22nd last in 2010-11. Bubble team, maybe.

Tessa (Las Vegas): What does Vukota think of Teemu Selanne this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I'm sure it undersells him again, and Lidstrom as well. Tom says as much in his "Intro to GVT and VUKOTA" about their projections last year, which was a miss among many hits for VUKOTA. This year: Selanne 54 points in 61 games, and Lidstrom 42 points in 65 games.

Bill Simmons (Grantland Office): What are the chances my Bruins repeat this season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): They're in the mix, sixth by VUKOTA. Though the Bruins were extremely dependent on goaltending for the heights of their success, Boston's somewhat protected by the fact that Tuukka Rask is probably the best backup in the league. Best starter and best backup is a heck of a position to be in there.

Bottom line: no repeat.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): What's your favorite pizza place ever?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Well, that's a question I don't see every day. There was a corner place we liked to go to in Potsdam, NY when I was a freshman...although I suppose we had more subs there than pizzas. Here in Connecticut, I like New Haven style pizzas when I can get my hands on them. New Haven style clam pizza is nice.

JonL (CT): Any more Rush references in the upcoming Prospectus?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Nothing as overt as David Clarkson and Red Sector A. I think I used "exit stage left" in passing, although that's just a part of my normal terminology without thinking Rush much at all. My journalistic career reach its peak if I can ever get Neil Peart to write the Foreword to a Hockey Prospectus annual.

Sheetrock (Pittsburgh): 1) Jordan Staal seemed to show decent rate statistics last year, but which is more impactful and influential on those stats: an increase in PP time albeit an anemic one or an increase in competition from 3C to 1C? 2) Assuming Crosby is out, how would you rearrange the Pens' lines? I get frustrated with the bingo ball approach from Bylsma.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): 1) Staal's always been pretty awful on the PP. His 2.33 points per 60 minute rate is along the lines of Brad Richard's scoring at even strength. (Free Tyler Kennedy!)

2) You want to experiment with James Neal with the various centers. That's pretty key, because he's got a lot of potential, but you wonder about where his head is sometimes. He seems to get in bad funks. He's your upside to maximize and downside to minimize.

The big thing is the power play, which has been consistently below average to worse for years, even with all-world talent. Not every good player is good on the power play, which is why surprisingly, Kennedy seems to be good at it but not Staal. Coaching's got to answer for the deficiency at some point.

SimplyFalco (Amherst): Hi Timo, How do you believe the Sabres will get under the salary cap, and how would you get them under the cap?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Buffalo should have made a trade a month ago, when some teams still needed to make the cap floor. They're deep enough at defense, that I had wondered if a team might not bite on Jordan Leopold coming off of a career-high 35 points. Seems like they would have been selling high.

Answer: trade a defenseman, stick Morrisonn in the AHL, that sort of thing.

JonL (CT): A personal question more than a hockey question - I know you're a Rangers fan, but you've been given quite a bit of access to the Islanders. You're not gonna flip on Ranger Nation, are you?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): I was a huge Rangers fan in the early through mid-90's. Had the privilege of being at the Guarantee game. I've got one jersey hanging in my office, and that's an Alex Kovalev Team Russia jersey, framed, with 1994 playoff tickets inside. That's a long time ago, though, and a lot has gone on with the Blue Shirts since.

The Islanders, Rangers, and Devils have all been good to me, with getting access to the games over the past year or so (I saw all 30 teams last year, thanks to them). I happen to go to Islanders games the most, and they've certainly got a young team with a lot of potential. I can see why fans of each of the three teams would have things to cheer for and be optimistic about. Solid citizens on all three teams as well.

Jay (Madison): True or False: Bruce Boudreau survives the year as Caps coach.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The Capitals are completely stacked now with Tomas Vokoun in net. Really good chance for them to make the Stanley Cup Finals, where you'd take your chances against a Chicago or whoever makes it out of the always-competitive West.

He shouldn't survive the year if they don't make it to the Final Four at least. I know that sounds like fan-talk, but seriously, Boudreau's been given a lot of slack that many other coaches wouldn't get.

Kevin (Chicago): Who's going to win the World Series?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): For a guy that used to have partial season tickets to the Yankees from 1997-2001, I have barely watched a second of baseball this year. Just too busy with hockey. I did turn on the TV (thanks Twitter!) when Jesus Montero played his first MLB game, because I definitely wanted to check that out. I've got no educated guess for you this year.

I am pulling for South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, though, which is where most of my sports viewing will be going over the next month!

Phil S (Toronto): Hi Timo, Can't wait for HP 11/12. When do you think the NHL will create/allow some sort of Field/FX system for hockey (through either embedded microchips or camera/computer ice mapping), so that we can track exact position and movement of players on the ice? This would surely have massive implications for advanced metric analysis of the game.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): It's inevitable, isn't it? This is done, to some extents in soccer. The well-known Gabe Desjardins pops in for a guest spot with an essay ("The Statistical Revolution") in Hockey Prospectus 2011-12, that covers this very issue.

Jonathan J (Calgary): Two part Oilers question on team construction: 1. How should they deal with their abundence of young talented forward? Should Lander and Nugent-Hopkins get some ice time this year? 2. How big a mistake was it taking RNH instead of Adam Larrson? Oilers backend looks weak enough to cause them to miss the playoffs again this year. Congrats on the new edition of Hockey Prospectus. Looking forward to picking up a copy.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Not the stats guru, although I am starting to catch up on that front. Our Corey Pronman had RNH as the clear number one pick, so I don't think the Oilers went wrong there. That said, I spoke with Larsson at the NHL Entry Draft, and he really impressed me. Bright, thoughtful, mature kid. If Corey and others say he's got first pairing or even number one defenseman talent, I'll vouch for the intangibles and say the kid's going to be a special player.

My good news to you on the Oilers is that we don't have them ranked quite down at number 30 by team GVT. Is that good news? Don't think playoffs, though. Baby steps.

Jay (Erie, Pa. ): Can the Penguins get a top four seed again without Crosby in the lineup for the bulk of the season? Also, when will the print version of Hockey Prospectus 2011-12 be available to order?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): No! We've got the Penguins as a top 10 team by GVT, but that blows up in a hurry without Crosby. All the VUKOTA system knows is that he missed half of the season last year - so it's being too optimistic in regards to GP. As I state in the Pittsburgh chapter (discussing how some of the Pens' good play in the second half of 2010-11 was a bit of a mirage) they're on the playoff bubble in the last couple of weeks.

Print version should be available for order very shortly after the .pdf comes out. You can probably have it in your hands in 1-2 weeks from today.

Steven (Paris): If you could replace Bettman for one day and make any on ice or off ice change, what would you do?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): European size ice surface. North American fans have no idea how it would open up the game.

jmercan (Jersey): What is reasonable to expect from Ovechkin this season? Was last year the new normal or will he again challenge for the scoring title?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): You have to think that last year was an aberration for a bunch of the Caps. VUKOTA's got Ovechkin and Stamkos tied for the Art Ross, at a hair under 100 points.

garik16 (new york): Surely the Canes` defense can`t be as bad as last year, right? (Poor Cam Ward)

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Hi, Josh! VUKOTA sees Carolina's overall goal suppression climbing from 21st to 15th. Not exactly what you're asking, but Jonathan Willis (who wrote the Hurricanes chapter) likes the upgrade in backup goaltender, from Justin Peters to ex-Flyer Brian Boucher. While Jon thinks that Ward might regress a bit from last season, the improvement at backup should cover for that. Overall, Carolina's got a very talented farm system, so you expect improvements in general over the next season or so.

Ryan Smyth (Edmonton): Which will be more impressive this year: my goal scoring total or my mullet?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): First of all, my mullet c. 1991 beats your mullet. And what's wrong with a mullet, anyway?

VUKOTA expects 19 goals, 43 points.

Dave Semenko (Penalty Box): What's the biggest potential thing holding Edmonton back from moving out of a lottery draft position next year? Lack of quality defensemen?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Everything? Almost everything? Youngsters still pre-peak, a ton of dreck on the roster, awful at goaltender.

As I said before, Oilers fans shouldn't want a quick fix. Reload for one more season. Lottery picks are good.

R.A. Wagman (Toronto): I'm confused by Burke. Whenever you trade away 2 first rounds for a proven player, I'm assuming you're trying to win the Stanley Cup. At the trade deadline period last season, he traded away veteran players for young players and draft picks. I don't know what his plan is and I'm losing faith.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): They should have rebuilt before. But it's the old bugaboo for (Rangers and) Maple Leafs fans, throughout the years: retool unwisely, and be bad-to-mediocre forever. Last year's moves were the right thing to do, but I don't know that Burke's accumulated near enough talent to get to more than a fringe playoff team for the next few years. As a fan, if I go through a bunch of crappy years, I want the payoff to be a heck of a lot more than that.

Matt (Edmonton): Hey Timo, thanks for running this chat. Everyone pretty much agrees that San Jose and Los Angeles are the two top teams in the Pacific division as well as the Western conference. How do you feel the other 3 teams in the division stack up compared to each other and could we see another year where all 5 teams in the division are competing for a playoff spot at the end of the season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): What about Vancouver?

Regarding the Pacific, VUKOTA's surprisingly bullish on Anaheim (although Rob Vollman doesn't think so in the team essay). Phoenix should plummet without a true number one netminder, and Dallas isn't really going anywhere. You're looking at 2-3 teams out of the Pacific, only.

Restricted (Free Agent): Kyle Turris - how does this get resolved?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Kyle Turris who?

VUKOTA's expecting 4.9 GVT out of the 22-year-old with 46 career NHL points. I know his relative Corsi was good, but his zone start percentage was really high.

Matt (Malone, NY): Can you envision the Canadiens winning the Eastern Conference? Say they get bouncebacks from Cammilarri and Gomez and typical years from Subban, Gionta, Cole and Price and a healthy Markov...

Timo Seppa (Hockey): The issue's health with a whole lot of those guys, as Iain Fyffe describes in Hockey Prospectus 2011-12. Overall, they're an old and fairly mediocre team with a good netminder. To me, that's not trending the right direction. Bubble playoff team, again.

JonL (CT): Another Rangers question - in your opinion, with the big contract to Brad Richards (it appears very front-loaded), do you think that this season is Sather's last stand? If the Rangers don't get beyond round 1 of the playoffs, is he gone?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): It's not like Richards is 35. Yet.

Richards should be pretty solid for the next couple of years, ditto Gaborik. They're young, talented, and getting fairly deep. They've got Henrik Lundqvist in goal. I believe they do make the second round. Could even see an Eastern Conference Final within the next couple of years, possibly a Cup Final if things break right.

Rob L (New York): Hey Timo, As an NYR fan here, there are two issues on my mind. First of all, who plays with Richards/Gaborik? I'm a fan of Wolski seeing as his possession numbers and overall NHLe potential is some of the best on the team. I also think Avery, with consistent minutes, could return to form (his numbers are ok too). Also, what do you think are the chances NYR fans end up being shocked that Richards isn't the savior they all think he is (I say high - he's been regressing at EV for a while now). Secondly, the numbers show to me that Derek Stepan is in serious danger of hitting the sophomore slump if he is given an expanded role. Would you agree? Thanks, Rob

Timo Seppa (Hockey): You've almost got a classic-style hockey line there, with the playmaker (Richards) and the scorer (Gaborik)...you need the grinder, so you're maybe looking at a Dubinsky type? For sure, he can score (which is why you use him on a top line), but he's tough.

Wolski is...enigmatic. He's in pretty much every coach's doghouse, right? Probably even coaches he hasn't played for yet. Avery is a decent third-liner at this point; he can play pretty much anywhere, but you want some skill on the line too.

Richards is due for a regression by VUKOTA, but in the Rangers chapter, I explain that he's exactly what the Rangers need: very good ESP/60 and PPP/60, good at faceoffs.

No, I'm a Stepan fan. Smart kid on top of the skills. That means he's catching up to the NHL game and will only get better as he wraps his head around the game. Terrible at faceoffs, but that will improve at least marginally.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Timo! Who had the best off season? Has the balance of power shifted at all?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): With Vokoun, your Capitals--no pressure, now--are the favorites. Buffalo improved a lot. Rangers, Blues, Kings are all youngish and good, so they're on the upswing. Phoenix should fall out of the playoffs. Tampa might take a step backwards (perception-wise, at least). Islanders could make the postseason, given decent netminding.

Phil S (Toronto): What do you think of Marcus Johansson for the Caps as their 2nd line center and do you forsee elite upside?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Seems skilled to me. VUKOTA thinks the 21-year-old sophomore will improve to 39 points, 5.4 GVT.

Lily Carter (Oregon): Having a "big name" goaltender is the most over-rated "concept" in hockey, True or False?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): It seems like half of all hockey sabermetric articles discuss that very concept. True.

remmalf (montreal): could you explain how your VUKOTA system works?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Buy the book?

Tom Awad says "it's a combination of comparable player selection and multi-variable linear regression."

boards (San Antonio): Jamie Benn: first line or second?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): In the book, Jonathan Willis gives the possibility of Benn even centering a line. He potentially sees Benn on a second line with Eriksson and maybe Ryder.

Matt (Malone, NY): Potsdam alum here! That pizza place with either Sergis or Josies. Both were excellent.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): It was right on the corner, diagonally across from the bridge. Great subs. Funny memories there. My friend had way too many hot peppers on his the first time we went (stupid freshmen!) and the guy behind the counter (a Potsdam State radio DJ) had some good humored fun with us every time thereafter.

Peter King (Boston): Will a Canadian team ever be featured in a Winter Classic?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Why not? Toronto and Montreal are big names.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Timo, is shooting percentage a static thing (i.e. do most players shoot successfully at a similar percentage) or is it something that improves with skill? I guess what I'm really asking is, was Ovechkin 'unlucky' last season?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Yes, Ovechkin was unlucky, as were most of the big name Caps outside of Semin, who maintained his shooting percentage. Number of shots isn't static, though. Any explanation for Ovechkin's decreased number (down two shots per game from two years ago)? Just getting older? Unmotivated? Out of shape? Bad chemistry? Coaching system? It's a question to be answered.

Kingsfan (Cali): Is the new book going to have some player vitals like the baseball version? I was disappointed in lasts.

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Like what, height and weight, and hometown?

This time around, we added PPTOI and SHTOI to skaters and ESSV% and Quality Start % for goaltenders. And a designation of Left Defenseman and Right Defenseman! Now, where else do you get that?!

Matt (Edmonton): Hey Timo, with the moves that Chicago has made in the offseason and perhaps a bounce-back to be expected from last season where they under-performed, how do you think they compare to the other top teams in the western conference and specifically Detroit who will likely be their competition for 1st place in the central division?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Before I even saw any VUKOTA projections--basically off of the first couple of days of free agency--I said Washington vs. Chicago in the Cup Final. VUKOTA's got them first and third, and tops in their conferences.

We've got Detroit taking an ever-so-slight step backwards...but I wouldn't count on it. Rafalski's underrated, though.

hotstatrat (New Jersey today, Toronto tomorrow): Is whatever is allowing the Red Wings to continue their yearly skate to the play-offs continuing? and what is it they are doing so right?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Well, the Detroit chapter's up on the website as one of our previews for the book. As Rob Vollman states, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom are a pretty good start. They've always drafted very well, and continue to do so. Both VUKOTA and Rob are concerned about a lull in talent between those awesome but aging veterans and the next generation. I wouldn't count on it. Red Wings could easily have been in the Final last year. You just can't make it every year.

Phil S (Toronto): Outlook for the Devils? Are they the 1st half (all world horrible) or 2nd half (all world great). If they're the 2nd half, they are a serious Cup contender (at good odds for once!) are they not?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): If they had Lemaire behind the bench, much closer to the 2nd half Devils. There have been a lot of explainable circumstances to their recent ups and downs (that I've written about over the last two years and two books), and with good enough coaching, they're still a (5th-8th place) playoff team. Zajac's injury is unfortunate, though. They've got a bunch of defensive talent coming up through the ranks (finally) but their post-Brodeur goaltending solution will need to be addressed eventually.

mattymatty2000 (Portland, OR): Hey Timo, has VUKOTA spat out anything particularly surprising? Like 40 goals for Jeff Halpern or something like that?

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Evgeni Malkin, 58 points? That's an over. Milan Lucic dropping down from a career-high 30 goals to 23 doesn't surprise me. Parise with only 45? But hedging your bets to 58 games seems wise. Nope, nothing too outlandish, which I suppose is good! Take a look yourself, when you can, and let us know!

Timo Seppa (Hockey): Lots of questions today! Very excellent. We'll have to do it again sometime very soon. See you around the rinks.


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